Understanding Trigger Points (Part III)

In my last two entries about trigger points, I’ve discussed how they have been studied, some ways they are described clinically, and the type of pain they cause for the people who suffer from them. I’ve done this all while maintaining that there is still a lot unknown about trigger points, how they are defined, and the symptoms that they cause. However, that has not stopped massage therapists and others from attempting to discover and treat them, a noble cause considering the incredible amount of pain trigger points can cause (see previous entries as well as the ending paragraph of this entry).

In my first entry, I mentioned Janet Travell, personal physician to President Kennedy, who first helped identify trigger points and describe them. While doing this she also worked on formulating a form of trigger point therapy, a way to deal with trigger points and their referred pain. With an emphasis on touching and stroking, Travell’s methods are a perfect match for massage therapists.

Her treatment starts with the therapist finding the trigger point by applying a mixture of perpendicular pressures and gliding strokes. The trigger points will be hard at first, but will soften when pressure is applied. When applying the pressure to the trigger points that are identified, the therapist must be sure not to apply too much pressure (which will cause the client to recoil) or too little pressure, which will leave things largely unchanged. By applying just the right amount of pressure to the appropriate areas, the therapist may induce pain in their client at first, but ideally, after a few minutes of sustained pressure, the client should feel a large release as ligament, muscle, and tendon free themselves of the trigger point.

Trigger points can be active in your body, causing direct and referred pain, but can also be latent as well, causing pain when compressed and possibly leading to stiff joints in old age. With the prospect of there being trigger points in many different parts of the body, it seems of great importance to find these and eliminate them as soon as possible. This will lead to stronger health in the present and in the future. Massage therapy’s role in the treatment of these maladies, while important now, seems to have the ability to grow in the future as definitions of what trigger points actually are – as well as methods of treating them – improve; this could lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of pain.

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